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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Jerusalem of Gold: Earthly and Heavenly


In the midst of a doomed Jerusalem, one which would soon be devastated by the Babylonians, the prophet Jeremiah offered the hope “again there shall be heard in…the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem…the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride…” I doubt that typical Israeli weddings of hundreds of people are yet taking place again in Jerusalem (or indeed in any other part of the country), but once again there is to be heard the sounds of gladness as people can now walk the streets of Jerusalem and shop and take public transportation. Children are back in school and synagogues will re-open, albeit with limits on how many people can attend at any one time (50), and with the requirement that social distancing is maintained and masks are worn. (I should note that not everyone thinks the re-opening of synagogues is advisable: The earthly Jerusalem is slowly but surely regaining its rhythms of life.


Today is Yom Yerushalayim; 53 years since the re-unification of the city. (Yom Yerushalayim is marked on the 28th of Iyar, which is tomorrow, but to avoid running into Shabbat, the celebration was advanced one day.) I am sure that at some point or another you have seen clips of the Israeli conquest of the Old City in 1967 and watched as Israeli troops went up to the Temple Mount and later embraced the Western Wall. Watching a couple of clips yesterday sent chills through my spine. (Here is a link to a very short you tube about that time: .) Perhaps for me the transformative moment had extra resonance, as I had spent part of 1965 in the hemmed-in city, when my father had his sabbatical, and returned 4 years later for my junior year abroad and was able to walk unimpeded through the Old City. Such a stroll had had been unimaginable only a few years earlier: the Old City was off-limits, on the other side of barbed wire and concrete walls


But as much as we would like to walk the streets of this earthly Jerusalem—and Delta is resuming flights to Israel next month, albeit we would be required to be quarantined for 2 weeks before we could saunter down Jerusalem’s streets--, I also think of another Jerusalem. The Rabbis spoke of Yerushalayim Shel Malah, a celestial Jerusalem, what I would label as a perfected version of the city; where peace and tranquility reign; where all dwell together, respectfully, and poverty is banished.


And so, though we celebrate a thriving, bustling, and expanding earthly Jerusalem, we should bear in mind this rabbinic vision of a celestial Jerusalem where all this and more are the reality.


Let me conclude with words of the Psalmist (Psalms 122: 6-7): “Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem, may those who love you be at peace. May there be well-being within your ramparts and peace in your citadels.” Amen.


Shabbat shalom.


P.S. There are multiple possibilities for Jewish learning in coming days. The Hartman Institute is running a day-long program this Sunday, “Limmud E-Festival”:


In June, New York City’s Temple Emanu-el Streicker Center is offering 8 different programs for free, beginning with “The Women of Shtisel” on June 1st and moving on to a program with Harry Fierstein days later.


Next week is Shavuot. This year we will forego our eve of Shavuot study session, along with the cheese, wine and good desserts that we have traditionally offered. However, let me point you to an all-night program of study offered by the Rabbinical Assembly which will go from 9 p.m. Thursday night to 9 a.m. Friday, with sessions offered by colleagues around the globe (each session is between 20 and 40 minutes—most of them are half an hour).


As for Shavuot services, I am planning on having a Torah study session on Friday, focusing on the Ten Commandments, the core of that morning’s Torah reading. (We will send out a link next week.) Friday evening, we will have a Yom tov/Shabbat service at the regular time. And on Saturday morning, so we stay in synch with other congregations here in the States, we will mark the 2nd day of the holiday with an abbreviated service, including some of the regular prayers, as well as Yizkor, and hopefully have time to include a short Torah study.






Chadashot MeYisrael:  News From Israel


Take a Sniff


Most of us take for granted our sense of smell. The fact that one of the effects of Covid-19 virus is the loss of smell should make us more cognizant and appreciative of this gift.


Now researchers at the Weizmann Institute in conjunction with colleagues at the Lowenstein Rehabilitation Hospital in Raanana have concluded that the ability of an unconscious patient to respond to smells is an indication of the likelihood of regaining consciousness. According to their findings, published late last month, 100% of unconscious brain-injured patients who responded to a sniff test regained consciousness during the course of their four-year study.


In cases of severe brain injury, it is often difficult to determine whether the person is conscious or unconscious. Current diagnostic tests can be inaccurate nearly 40% of the time. As lead researcher, Anat Arzi, observed: “Misdiagnosis can be critical as it can influence the decision of whether to disconnect patients from life-support machines.” Moreover, she observed: “In regard to treatments, if it is judged that a patient is unconscious and doesn’t feel anything, physicians may not prescribe them painkillers that they might need.”


The sniff test developed by researchers is based on the principle that nasal airflow changes in response to odor. For example, an unpleasant odor will lead to shorter and shallower sniffs. The researchers briefly placed jars containing various odors under noses of these unconscious patients. All the patients who were classified as being in a “vegetative state” but responded to the test later regained consciousness, though some did only minimally. In some instances, the result of the sniff test was the first indication that patients were about to recover consciousness.


“The fact that the sniff test is simple and potentially inexpensive makes it advantageous,” said Arzi. “It can be performed at the patients’ bedside without the need to move them—and without complicated machinery.” The sniff test not only predicted who would regain consciousness but with 92% accuracy was able to predict who would survive for at least 3 years.






Payrush LaParashah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


We begin the Book of Numbers this Saturday, May 23rd, with the portion of B’midbar (Numbers 1:1-54).


1:54 The Israelites did accordingly; just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so they did.


As the Levites too, were commanded about the functions they were to perform [1:47-53], why doesn’t the Torah note that they also did as commanded by God? From this, we can see that it is easier to persuade the common folk to perform that which God commanded than it is to persuade their leaders, “their Levites.” (Rabbi Gershon Hanokh of Radzin cited in Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, Torah Gems [Ituray Torah], Volume III: Bamidbar, Devarim, translated by Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Himelstein. Rabbi Gershon Hanokh [sometimes Henokh] Leiner of Radzin [Radzyn, Poland] was born in 1839, the grandson of Rabbi Mordechai Yoseph Leiner, the first Izbica Rebbe, and author of the controversial May HaShiloach [The Waters of Shiloh—in it he argued that all events, including human activity is under God’s control, thereby minimizing free will], and the son of Rabbi Yaakov Leiner who moved from Izbica to Radzin and served as Hassidic rebbe there and whose teachings are collected in Bet Yaakov [Beis Yaakov, The House of Jacob]. At the age of 16, Rabbi Gershon Henokh Leiner formulated a plan to compose a gemara on the Mishnaic order of Taharot, which has no Babylonian gemara on its tractates. In time he gathered all the relevant material, scattered in rabbinic literature, and presented them in chronological order in a volume entitled Sidray Taharot [The Orders of Purity] on the tractate of Kellim. He managed to create similar “gemaras” on all of the other tractates of Taharot. Unfortunately, the only other one published was the one on Ohalot; the remaining tractates remained in manuscript and were lost during the Holocaust. He was the author of many other volumes, including, Sod Yesharim [The Secret of the Righteous — commentary on the Torah portions] and Daltot Sha’ar Ha’ir [The Doors of the Gates of the City]. He also edited his grandfather’s work, May HaShiloach. Additionally, he wrote Sefer HaHadkamah VeHapeteechah [The Book of Introduction and Opening] which argued that Hassidism revealed the pre-Sinaitic Torah of Abraham. He is sometimes referred to by the title of his work, Orchot Chayim, [The Paths of Life] on the will of the mishnaic era Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol. Outside of the Radzin community, Rabbi Leiner, is, best known for claiming to have rediscovered Techelet, the blue/purple dye mentioned in the Torah for Tzitzit, the fringes of the Tallit. Exceptionally, he acquired scientific knowledge as well as the mastery of several languages, including Latin. He traveled several times to Italy to engage in research and concluded after studying various sea creatures that the dye was extracted from the cuttlefish. He published several books on it, including P’teel T’chelet [A Fringe of Tchelet], and Ein HaT’chelet, [The Eye of Techelet]. Radziner Hassidim as well as Breslov Hassidim have a blue fringe using dye from the cuttlefish. [It should be noted that Rabbi Isaac Herzog—later a chief rabbi of Israel-- challenged this identification in his doctoral dissertation, published in 1913, and concluded that the cuttlefish dye was actually synthetic Prussian blue and that the most likely source of the dye was from a snail, from the Murex snail. Most people who add the blue fringe to a tallit, do so using dye extracted from the murex trunculus.] Rabbi Leiner died in 1890. A descendant of his brother serves as the current rebbe and resides in Brooklyn.






Questions for B’midbar 5780 (Numbers 1:1-1:54)


1.  When did the Israelites have their first census? How were they counted? Were there census enumerators?

2.  Commenting on the phrase in verse 2, “B’mispar Shaymot” (listing the names) Gersonides suggests that they counted the names rather than the men themselves so as to avoid a plague. (A similar suggestion is made by Abarbanel.) What motivated Gersonides (and Abarbanel) to offer this insight?

3.  The text includes the statement “Kol Yots’ay Tsavah, literally “all those who go out to the army”. Is this determinative of who was counted? Was there a cut-off age for the census? Would men who were maimed have been counted?

4.  Where else do we encounter some of the names of the tribal leaders?

5.  What theophoric names are to be found in the list of tribal leaders? Which name is noticeably absent?

6.  What is the basis for the order of the tribes? Why does Gad come in between Simon and Judah?

7.  Which tribe was the largest? Which was the smallest? Is there any significance as to which of the tribes was the largest and which was the smallest?

8.  If one understands the Hebrew word eleph to mean not “thousand” but “unit”, are the numbers more acceptable? (598 units with 4550 men.)

10. How is it possible that the census number of 603,550 was identical to the number of half shekels contributed to the building of the Tabernacle back in Exodus 28:26? Didn’t anybody die or come of age in between?

11. Why were the Levites excluded from the census?

12. What functions were the Levites designated to perform?  How did the Levites defend the rest of the camp of Israel?

As this Shabbat is the day before the new month, there is a special haftorah, taken from I Samuel 20:18-42. Why this haftorah? Who are the dramatic personae in the haftorah? What night be said about Saul’s mental health? What was the nature of the relationship of Jonathan and David? (The literal translation of the last phrase in v. 41 is “until David grew larger.”) Did David keep the oath he swore in 42?


Wed, May 27 2020 4 Sivan 5780